How to Discuss Your Management Style in an Interview
You are confidently seated in the interview room, and everything is going well. You had prepared well for the interview, and no question has fazed you so far. You are answering them all without breaking a sweat.
After a brief lull in the conversation, one of the panelists clears his throat and asks you, “So, tell us, what’s your management style?” This question catches you completely off guard. Damn! Why did you not think about this question when preparing for the interview? But how could you, when the position you are interviewing for is not even a managerial position?
Interviews are very unpredictable. It is important to be ready for every curve ball the interviewers throw at you, including the question about your management style.# This is especially important if you are interviewing for a role that requires you to manage other employees or perform any other supervisory duties.
Even if you are not interviewing for a managerial position, it is good to know how to talk about your management style. It is a common interview question, which means there is a chance it might get asked regardless of the position you are interviewing for.
Typically, employers want to hire employees with leadership skills, even if they are not hiring them for a leadership position. Maybe the position you are interviewing for has opportunities for advancement into leadership roles, and they don’t want to have to find someone else to take that role a few years down the line.
Or maybe they just want to know that the person they are hiring can step up and take charge of situations when necessary, even if they are not in a leadership position. By asking this question, the employer wants to know if you can lead, how you lead, and most importantly, how comfortable you are as a leader. It is a behavioral question whose aim is to try to find out how you would act in a certain situation.
For many people, this is a difficult question to answer because it requires you to explain how you would exercise your power over others. If you make yourself sound too grandiose, you might come across as a boastful and narcissistic person, which is unlikely to improve your chances of getting hired. On the other hand, if you make yourself sound too humble, you might be seen as an ineffective manager. The key is to present yourself as a leader who can get things done and is right for the overall wellbeing of the team.
Before we get into the steps on how to discuss your management style in an interview, I want to first issue a disclaimer. When this question comes up in an interview, under no circumstances should you say that you have never held a managerial role. It does not matter if you have actually never held a managerial position in your career. Think of any situation where you had to make use of your leadership skills, no matter how briefly.
This could be a leadership role you held in school, on a sports team, in your private life, or anywhere else. Find something, no matter what. Just don’t say that you have zero experience as a leader, unless you don’t want the job. In which case, you shouldn’t even be at the interview in the first place.
With that out of the way, let’s now take a look at the steps you need to follow to discuss your management style in an interview.
STEP ONE: DEFINE GOOD MANAGEMENT
There are many different management styles, some of which might be good or bad, depending on the situation. Since you cannot be sure what the interviewers consider to be a good management style, the first step is to define what good management is to you.
Describing what good management means to you puts the interviewers on the same page with you and gives them parameters by which to evaluate any information you provide going forward. To make it easier for you to describe what you consider to be good management, let’s take a look at the 6 common management styles.
Autocratic or Directive Management Style
Also referred to as autocratic or coercive management style, this is a type of management where the manager is the sole authority. It is a dictatorial style of management where the manager makes decisions with little input from his subordinates. The manager expects immediate and total obedience from his juniors. Employees are controlled and motivated through threats and fear of punishment.
Each employee is given clear expectations on what they need to do and strict instructions on how to do it. Employees are given little autonomy and room to express themselves, and the management is not interested in getting feedback from employees. The management keeps a close eye on employees and what they are doing at all times.
Autocratic management is very useful when decisions need to be made quickly, such as in times of crisis. Since only one person’s preferences are considered, there is less wastage of time deliberating several options and decisions are therefore faster. Autocratic management can seem like a good management style if the manager makes the right decisions. This management style has a number of disadvantages, however.
Since ideas come from only one person, this system does not promote the emergence of new and innovative ideas. Due to limited autonomy for subordinates and little ownership of decisions, there is no room for employee buy-in. Because of this, autocratic management can easily drive away employees.
There is also little room for employees to learn and develop.
Since there is no feedback, opportunities for improvements are not easily spotted, and the management’s ideas might continue being implemented even when they are not the most appropriate. Autocratic management is not very effective in the long term, and should only be used in times of crisis.
Authoritative Management Style
This is a visionary style of management that is perceived to be a great option in many situations. With this style of management, the role of the manager is to set a vision for the team and provide them with a roadmap on how to achieve the vision.
Once the vision is clear to the team, the manager then takes a hands-off approach, allowing the employees to work on their own to achieve the vision. The manager does not micromanage employees. They are given the autonomy to make their own decisions as long as they are in line with the vision.
The manager only steps in from time to time to give some input and ensure that all efforts are geared towards the vision. To control employees, the manager uses persuasion and feedback on job performance.
Since employees are given autonomy over their work, there is a sense of freedom that allows employees to strategize and come up with new, innovative ways of doing things. Provision of feedback allows employees to be constantly aware of their performance and makes it easier for them to learn.
This management style also ensures that there is a clear goal that the team is working towards. Since employees’ performance is recognized and praised, it creates a sense of pride and high self-esteem among employees.
Unfortunately, since it is pretty hands-off, this management style can lead to some employees becoming complacent. It is also not a good option when employees are undertrained or new to the job, since they might need some guidance.
Affiliative Management Style
With this style of management, the manager places more focus on the employees than the tasks that need to be completed. The main objective of such a manager is to avoid conflicts at the workplace and ensure that there are good personal and professional relationships, both among the employees and between employees and management. The manager wants everyone to be happy so that they can focus on their work without any interferences caused by bad blood.
Since the focus is on the employees rather than the tasks, this style of management is very flexible and can be used simultaneously with other management styles. In addition, employees are not subjected to a lot of pressure, and there is a high sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Unfortunately, the lack of focus on performance can lead to complacency, mediocrity and non-performance. Performance oriented employees might also become demotivated.
This style of management is best suited for situations where a sense of camaraderie is required, or situations where tasks are routine and there is no need for high levels of performance. Affiliative style of management is not very useful in times of crisis or in situations where high levels of performance are required.
Participative Management Style
Also referred to as democratic management style, this is a management style where subordinates are given the chance to participate in decision making. Just like in a political democracy, majority of decisions are made through consensus.
The manager gives every employee the chance to voice their opinions and allows employees to vote for the best decisions. Due to its participative nature, this style of management creates harmony and cohesion among employees and encourages cooperation. It also boosts team morale and creates a sense of self-worth among employees, since they know that their opinions are important. This style of management also takes the burden of decision making from the shoulders of the manager.
Participative style of management can however be slow and inefficient at times, since the opinions of multiple people have to be shared and considered. It also requires close supervision from the manager. This style of management is best suited for situations where creative and innovative ways of doing things are needed, or situations where there is no clear way forward.
It also requires subordinates who are experienced in their work, since they can give constructive inputs. Due to its slow speed, this management style should be avoided in times of crisis.
Pacesetting Management Style
Like the name suggests, this style of management requires the manager to set the pace and standard at which tasks should be done. The manager uses himself as an example, showing subordinates how things should be done before handing them over to the subordinates.
By using themselves as examples, they set a high standard of excellence for the team to follow. This also motivates employees to give their best in their assignments since they want to prove that they are up to the task. In case employees cannot match up to the standard, the task gets reassigned to another employee who is better suited to handling it.
While it is a good management task where the employees are qualified and competent, it can put too much pressure on new employees or become too exhausting where the pace is too fast. Because of this, this management style is best suited for situations where the employees are highly motivated and highly skilled. The manager also needs to be an expert in that area. It should be avoided if employees need guidance and coaching in order to perform effectively in their roles.
Coaching Management Style
With this style of management, the manager is invested in the long term professional development of his subordinates and therefore provides a lot of coaching and mentoring. The manager continually encourages employees to develop their strengths and work on their weaknesses, and provides them with opportunities for growth and development. For this to happen, the manager needs to be an expert in their field, else it might not be possible for them to coach and mentor subordinates.
Due to the mentor-trainee bond, this style of management creates a strong relationship between employees and the management and has low turnover. It also leads to improved performance since employees are constantly learning.
This style of management is great for new employees and situations where employees are highly motivated and have a strong desire for professional development. It should be avoided in times of crisis and in situations where the manager does not have enough experience and expertise in the field.
The above are the 6 most common styles of management that you can allude to when describing what good management means to you. When defining good management, don’t simply state a management style and leave it at that. Instead, you should describe the management style and explain why you think it is a good management style. It is always good to have researched the company before the interview, since this makes it easier for you to align your definition of good management with what the company’s needs.
You should also keep in mind that there is no right or wrong style of management. Different styles work best for different situations. The best thing is to be flexible and incorporate different aspects of different management styles. This shows that you have no trouble adapting your management style to the situation at hand. Below is an example of how to define good management to the interviewing panel.
“For me, being a good manager is about making it very clear to the team what goals we are working towards and then leaving them to work independently, without the need to constantly micromanage them. At the same time, a good manager should step in from time to time to check the progress of the team and provide any necessary feedback to ensure the team remains on course. A good manager should also give everyone the chance to provide their input and make sure everyone gets heard. These are the main things I try to adhere to as a manager.”
This answer does not directly mention any of the common management styles, yet it makes it clear to the interviewers that you use authoritative and participative methods in your management style.
STEP TWO: SHOWCASE YOUR UNIQUE ATTRIBUTES
You have already defined good management and shared a story that highlights how you incorporate the traits of good management into your style. Great! But if you want to really set yourself apart, impress the hiring manager and increase your chances of getting hired, you need to go a step further and show what makes you a great manager. Mention an additional leadership skill that makes you an even better manager.
Doing this is easy. You simply need to mention another attribute that you left out while defining what makes a good manager. For instance, since you had mentioned that being a good manager is about giving subordinates the autonomy to work on their own, checking their progress and giving feedback, and ensuring that everyone’s opinion gets heard, you can mention that on top of these three things, you also take the time to train, guide and coach your subordinates where necessary.
Interviews are highly competitive, and adding such a unique trait gives you an edge over other candidates. Of course, don’t mention a trait just for the sake of it. You should make sure that you possess the mentioned unique trait and should be ready to back it up if necessary. Below is an example of how to showcase your unique attributes.
“What makes me unique is that on top of giving my subordinates the autonomy to work on their own, regularly checking their progress and giving my feedback, and ensuring that everyone’s opinion gets heard, I also go out of my way to ensure that everyone does their job to the best of their ability. If I realize that one of my team members is having trouble with something, I guide and coach them to ensure that they are well versed with what they need to do and that they won’t have experience further trouble in case they need to do the same thing again.”
STEP THREE: SHARE A STORY TO ILLUSTRATE YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE
At the start of this article, I mentioned that the question “what is your management style?” is a behavioral question. Since behavioral questions try to determine what you would do in a certain situation, they are best answered by providing an example of a time when you actually handled such a situation. This applies to our question about management styles as well.
Having defined what you consider to be the attributes of a good manager, and the attribute that makes you unique, you now need to share a story from your past that highlights how you incorporate those attributes in your management style. You don’t need to share a very long story.
A simple story that showcases your management style will do. By sharing a personal, real-life story, you show that the attributes you mentioned are not mere ideals that you came up with from nowhere. The story acts as evidence that you actually apply these attributes when you are given a managerial or supervisory role. Below is an example of how to share a story highlighting your management style:
“I remember this one time at my previous position when our team was supposed to get started on a project for a new client we had just signed up. Our team leader was supposed to give us a brief of the project, but unfortunately, her young son was admitted to hospital, and she could not make it to work for a week. The new project was supposed to be done in two weeks’ time. Knowing the importance of the project, I knew we couldn’t afford to wait for her to get back, so I stepped up as the acting team leader.
After coordinating with our team leader to understand the scope of the project, I shared the requirements of the project with my teammates and made sure everyone understood what needed to be done. I had each member choose the task they wanted to work on, and assigned myself a task as well. On top of that, I checked in with each member of the team over the course of the week to ensure that everything was running smoothly. I also took the time to guide members of the team who were having some trouble with their assigned tasks. By the time our team leader got back, the project was nearing completion. We completed the project successfully and on time, without any hiccups.”
Being asked to discuss your management can catch you off guard and throw you into a panic, and therefore, it’s good to prepare for this question, even if you are not interviewing for a management position. The good thing is that there is no need to panic.
With the three steps described in this article, you can confidently come up with a great answer to the question, impress the interviewers and snag the job of your dreams. Simply define what good management means to you, add a unique spin to set yourself apart and show why you are a great manager and then share a personal story about a situation where you displayed the qualities you just described. That’s it!
Don’t let this question faze you again. Step out there and confidently showcase your leadership skills.
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